LOWELL -- When Jeff Stumb looked for a first stop in the Hemmings Motor News Great Race, he called over to Concord and Manchester in New Hampshire as well as to Amherst in Massachusetts.
But the community that stuck with him was the one that called him back within minutes.
Stumb shared an hourlong conversation with Deb Belanger, executive director of the Greater Merrimack Valley Convention & Visitors Bureau, and instantly was sold on Lowell being the first overnight stop.
"It was one of the easiest selections we made," said Stumb, director of The Great Race. "Sometimes you can just tell when someone is genuinely interested."
Assuming they all make it, 104 antique cars will drive through Lowell and park on Middle Street on Saturday, June 21.
"Any time we can bring new people to the city, it showcases our assets," Belanger said. "I knew Lowell could be a fit."
Belanger created a committee to organize events in connection to the arrival of the vintage cars. It will include Lowell's own classic car show in various locations downtown. An antique fire engine and a monster truck will also be showcased.
Stumb said the surrounding events played into his decision to select Lowell.
Stumb hopped on a plane bound for Lowell and immediately was dazzled by the red-brick mills, historic buildings and cobblestone streets. He saw Middle Street as the perfect backdrop for an antique car show. He and Belanger shook hands on the decision after a tour of downtown.
"You got a great old city. We got this great old-car event. It is just a natural fit," Stumb said.
Belanger hopes The Great Race will have the same effect the 2006 Men's Curling Championship had when it came to the Tsongas Arena. She consulted organizers in Cape Girardeau, Mo., one of the Great Race's host cities last year, before accepting the offer.
This is the first time the race will take place solely on the East Coast. Drivers will start in Ogunquit, Maine, and finish in The Villages, Fla., eight days later.
"When these cars come in, it is a big deal," Belanger said. "To really see these guys and how passionate they are about cars, it is amazing."